Ignoring all potential Jat candidates, Congress on Sunday finally announced Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit face of the party as the new Chief Minister of Punjab. This was announced by Punjab Congress affairs in-charge and former chief minister of Uttrakhand, Harish Rawat on Twitter.
Ahead of coming assembly elections in the state, Congress has played the Dalit card to woo 33 percent voters of Punjab. This is the first time a Dalit will be the chief minister of the state where politics is dominated by Jats.
"It gives me immense pleasure to announce that Shri Charanjit Singh Channi has been unanimously elected as the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party of Punjab," Harish Rawat tweeted.
Congress's Dalit face in Punjab
Charanjit Singh Channi, a three-time MLA, will be the first Dalit chief minister of the state. With a clean political record, Channi has also been the former leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly. Charanjit Singh Channi was the technical education minister of the outgoing Amarinder Singh cabinet. In the assembly, he represents the Chamkaur Sahib constituency.
The announcement follows a dramatic day of hectic parleys and ends with a surprise as Congress MLAs have earlier told that they proposed the name of Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa for the post of chief minister. Reports claimed that he also sought the appointment of the governor.
Earlier served as leader of the opposition
Channi who was a minister in the outgoing cabinet of Capt Amarinder Singh was the leader of the opposition in the Assembly from 2015 to 2017 when the Akali Dal-BJP alliance was ruling the state.
Jat-dominated Punjab politics would change the dynamics of state politics in the run-up to the 2022 Assembly elections. Dalits have a 33 percent vote share in the state.
As per reports in media, Channi's appointment came through after Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief Navjot Singh Sidhu objected to Sukhjinder Randhawa, whose name the AICC appointed observers had previously zeroed in on for the position.
Best wishes from Capt. Amarinder Singh
Outgoing Chief Minister, Capt. Amarinder Singh extended his best wishes to Charanjit Singh on his election as new Chief Minister of Punjab. "My best wishes to Charanjit Singh Channi", Capt tweeted, adding, "I hope he will be able to keep the border state safe".
Importance of Dalits in Punjab politics
Punjab has the highest population of Dalits, 33 percent, in the country. As per the 2011 census, out of the total Dalit population, 73.3 percent live in rural areas, while 26.67 percent live in urban areas. Out of 117 Vidhan Sabha seats, 34 are reserved for SCs in Punjab.
Despite having a 33 percent vote share in state politics, there is a feeling of being 'ignored' among Dalits so this move of Congress is considered as an attempt to woo this marginalized section of the society.
Furthermore, Congress's arch-rival in Punjab, Akali Dal has announced an alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) so this move is also aimed at strengthing the base among Dalits.